Otolaryngologists: They Sound too Good to be True

“Pardon me?”

This was phrase I was uttering with more and more frequency. Along with huh?, what?, and For Pete’s sake, speak up!

I knew something was amiss. I used to pride myself with the fact that I could hear a truck coming up my mile-long driveway before my dog could. I used to consider unplugging the refrigerator, two rooms away from my desk, because its electrical hum was hugely bothersome. I used to be able to hear a mouse pass gas at fifty paces.

But it all came to a meteorically headlong halt, upsetting my world and disrupting my work.

And by fast, I mean over the space of about 3 months. But it seriously felt like lightning speed if I don’t pay too much attention to the fact that I refused to pay too much attention to it.

This is what I told the otolaryngologist when I first went to see him—the part about sudden deafness being a near overnight happenstance. The fact that he raised one eyebrow clear up to his hairline makes me think I was less than convincing, but we’d never met before, so it’s likely he was unfamiliar with my “fiction author”-like ways of creating more tension in fairly bland scenarios.

Wording is everything.

But so is hearing, because without it, I must use my third eye—or third ear—to metaphysically conjure up the sound of those sweet words I love.

“It’s not too bad when I’m on my own and the world is quite silent, but the second any sound is a part of the landscape, I’m keenly aware I’m going profoundly deaf.”

The doctor narrowed his eyes at me.

“It’s a massive challenge to read people’s lips on any good day, but it’s near impossible to read my dog’s lips now as he’s way behind on facial grooming.”

Again, the doctor said nothing, but his own pursed lips spoke volumes. He motioned for me to lie back and turn my head so he could investigate one ear. After a muffled bit of rooting around, he grabbed one of the smallest vacuum cleaners I’ve ever seen and deftly earned his fee.

I sat up, wide-eyed and thrilled.

Sound is amazing after you’ve lost most of it. Everything is distinct, crystalized, and heightened. Likely I would welcome the hum of the fridge once I got home. But we still had one other defunct ear to attend to, and I also had questions.

“I’m actually really glad I was forced to come see an ENT, as part of what I do for work is teach people about aromas and flavors, and we spend a fair bit of time discussing my favorite part of the body—the olfactory epithelium.”

“Really?” he said, as he motioned for me to switch sides for the second ear.

“So, as I’m here, I was wondering if you could tell me what you would say are the most important things the average person would find interesting about this organ?”

He leaned down to peer into my ear and said, “That … is a wonderful question. I would definitely make sure they know—”

And then I heard nothing but the sound of the world’s tiniest Hoover.

I panicked a little, as this was my one chance to chat before being rushed out of the building so that the physician could continue seeing the long line of people fearing they’d gone deaf, all pacing the waiting room.

I tried lifting my head just a smidge, and he suddenly paused the Miracle Ear Electrolux. “Did that hurt?” he asked.

“Nope. I just missed what you’d said.

He chuckled. “I said—”

The doll-sized Dyson started back up again.

Surely, he’s doing this on purpose, I thought. Perhaps he feels his service fee should not include a month’s worth of his schooling crammed into a five-minute lecture.

He sat back and gave me a smile. “Did you get all that? There’s some marvelous science to share, for sure.”

I felt my face arrange its features into a bleak visage. “Nearly,” I tried to say convincingly.

He turned to his assistant. “Go grab the packet, please.” The doctor then turned to me as his assistant slipped out the door. “No worries. I’m having Charles bring you one of our anosmia sourcebooks. It’s a fat pamphlet full of everything I tried to tell you, plus some remarkable scratch and sniff pages that help identify whether you’ve lost your sense of smell or taste. You’ll love it. Everything you need and a ton of stuff you’ll want to share.”

I smiled, thrilled. Both because I could mostly hear now and because I was getting a free bucketload of captivating science. Scratch n Sniff! I couldn’t wait.

Charles returned and happily handed me the packet. “We’ve only got one left,” he mentioned to the doctor.

The doctor reclaimed my prize. “Pardon me,” he said apologetically. But now I was positive he was enjoying the tease. “Maybe next time, as this packet is hard to come by.”

I sighed. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Ah!” he patted my knee as he moved swiftly toward the door. “A pun! Very good!”

And then I knew I had my sharp-eared sense back because I could hear the sound of my own eyes roll skyward.

~Shelley

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Breaking my silence

I owe my ears to a bug and a meditative master. Well, maybe more so to the meditative master because he’s the one who gave me a gift.

He taught me how to listen.

I don’t mean he advised me in the art of paying attention to people’s words and the message they endeavored to convey. I mean he instructed me to hear sounds, and tone, and vibration.

In absolutely everything.

At the time, I thought I had a fairly well-developed ear. I was a musician, trained to hear intonation and pitch with a considerable degree of competency. But he had a level of attention to sound that was mystifying to me. His auditory skills were on par with most owls and marine animals. Mice feared for their lives around him. Beluga whales bowed down in his presence. I just wanted a little piece of that magic.

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But be careful what you wish for, right? Because a boon can just as easily become a blight.

I cannot find silence. I can’t remember the last time I have heard … nothing.

This man was a sound engineer, someone my music producer had hired to mix the final cuts of the album we were making, the film score we had finished and the commercials we whipped out. My job was done. I was excused and told to go work on the next project, but sometimes I’d plop down on the studio couch, make myself as invisible as possible and watch what unfolded.

And what unfolded was a brain twisting mystery. This man would sit in front of the sound board console and hold his breath. He was as still as the Buddha, who probably would have slapped him on the back with a thump of well done! Then he would crawl around on the floor, beneath the equipment, searching for an elusive something-or-other. Sometimes it would be hours before he actually played our music.

When I finally dredged up enough courage to ask him what he was doing, he’d answered, “I’m noticing.”

“Noticing what?” I asked.

“A lot,” he said.

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And during the next year I began ‘noticing’ too. He showed me how to find the buzz in each cable, the hum in all the machinery and the layer upon layer of sonance everywhere.

I went a little wild with my practice and drove my producer crazy with my newfound enthusiasm and belief that we would both benefit from this exciting auditory adventure I pulled him along on. At one point when recording the vocals for a lush and abundantly orchestrated song, I made him stop and pull out track after track after track, positive I could “hear” something that didn’t belong there.

We found it. It was a cricket in the recording booth. Finding the cricket to pitch him out proved impossible. Finding the musicians to bring them back in proved expensive.

No one was happy with me.

Except the sound engineer.

But now I can’t go anywhere without listening for the layers. It’s not as if I’ve developed the auditory capability to hear dog whistles, but rather I’ve stopped tuning things out. And I practiced this for so many years now I can NEVER tune them out.

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I lay awake at night, and hear the usual things.

The clock ticking, the dog breathing, the cat licking, the stinkbugs flying … and then smacking into walls and dropping onto the floor.

There is the sink dripping, the toilet running, the wind rattling, a coyote howling and an aircraft droning.

And when I have categorized these sounds, I am left with others that pull me out of bed and ask me to hunt them down.

The fridge has a little hum. The freezer has a funky hiss. The DVR has a purring motor that churns and roils, keeping something tiny inside of it cool and protecting it from combusting.

Down the hall in the family room I find two speakers, softly throwing out sound in the key of A. I bend down along the floorboards and hear muffled scratching—someone is busy making a tiny nest in the wall. I crawl beneath my desk and trace a treble tone to my computer’s hard drive. I start at an unexpected sound and bump my head, taken by surprise at the vibration above me where my smart phone was set to silently buzz with an incoming email.

I hear the heat vent whir to life, the soft whooshing of air, spongy and constant. Then the generator which lives halfway down the hill to the sheep barn clicks on for its weekly test drive. I open the back porch door and stand on the icy cold steps to count the multilayers of sound the generator is generating.

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Far off, on the other side of the house, the wind chimes chingle.

And then I hear the birds chirping and something high-pitched and tiny. The sound takes me up the porch steps and back into my bedroom.

And right next to my bed.

It’s my alarm clock.

It’s time to start another day. Another day filled with sound.

I’m thinking the sounds will most likely be my yawns.

~Shelley

February Gotta Have a Gott winner

In January, Rob and I announced that his sketches will be available toward the end of the year in the form of a 2015 calendar! And our readers would get to be the judges and voters for which doodles they’d like to see selected for each month. We’ll reveal the winners one by one, and come November, If you’ve Gotta have a GOTT, you can place your order. Jump on over to see the cartoon winner for February!

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

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